With Josh McCown still not cleared from the NFL’s protocol on concussions, Cleveland Browns head coach Mike Pettine announced that Johnny Manziel gets the start on Sunday against the Tennessee Titans. This comes just one day after saying he saw no reason that McCown wouldn’t play if he was cleared of the concussion protocol The earliest that could have happened was Friday, but it didn’t.
“Anytime you have a player that can’t play, you’re always going to be disappointed, but Johnny’s had a good week,” Pettine said at the team’s training facility on Friday. “It’s not like Josh practiced and we find out late he can’t go. When a guy goes into the protocol, you have to make the assumption that he’s not going to be back and then react to the news when he is. We’re prepared.”
Sunday will be Manziel’s third career start in the NFL and second in front of the home fans at FirstEnergy Stadium. Starting Manziel will create some energy from the expected capacity crowd on Sunday, but will it help get the Browns their second straight win in the home opener. Manziel’s first start came last December against the Cincinnati Bengals and was a disaster. The Browns were shut out 30-0.
“I don’t have too much recollection of that week, during or after,” Pettine said. “Right now, I feel very comfortable just because of the volume of reps that he’s gotten, the quality of the reps, where he is with the material, how he is in the meeting room. We knew he was going to be the guy and coming out of playing three quarters against the Jets, looking back on it now, that experience helps him.”
Manziel came off the bench last Sunday after the opening offensive series and did some good things despite not having much practice heading into the Jets game. Manziel threw for 182 yards and his first NFL touchdown pass, but also had three turnovers. Pettine expects a better performance from Manziel with having the majority of the reps in practice this week.
“The game reps, to me, are the most valuable ones that he got,” Pettine said. “Coming out and playing three quarters against New York and then getting a full week and then a lot of the overlap of the Jets practice I already talked about, we were able to carry over a lot of stuff from the end of training camp and from last week so it’s all material that’s he’s very comfortable with.”
Sunday’s matchup against the Titans now features a battle of Heisman Trophy winning quarterback in Manziel and Tennessee rookie and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota. Pettine hopes Manziel doesn’t get caught up in the hype of two former Heisman Trophy winners squaring off in the NFL and the focus remains on the Browns facing the Titans.
“I think from a mental toughness he’s been very, very focused, very dialed in,” Pettine said. “Their defense presents a lot of problems, and I think we’ll have more than enough to worry about then to think of looking up and trying to compare stats. The only thing he’s going to worry about is the scoreboard.”
If Manziel performs well on Sunday and by chance picks up his first win as an NFL starting quarterback, could the job remain his when McCown gets cleared to return to the field. That’s a topic that won’t be considered until next week.
“I’m not concerned with it, Pettine said.. “I’m just concerned about playing well on Sunday. As we say, we’ll deal with Monday on Monday.”
The news of Manziel’s starting on Sunday was a little bit of a surprise. Thursday, it was very likely McCown would be back at practice Friday and would be back under center for Sunday’s game. Now the question is when will McCown be cleared and when did the Browns find out the news that he wouldn’t return to the field yet.
“I won’t go into any details,” Pettine said. “I just know that he has to go through another series of tests today. I know when you have a setback that it resets the clock. Don’t have anything much beyond that.”
If Manziel struggles or gets hurt on Sunday, Austin Davis will be the backup quarterback.